Formerly Faddish, 'Green' Is Standard

by Jennifer Ellis  on Monday, Jul. 23, 2012 12:00 am  

Keith Wingfield, owner of River Rock Builders of Little Rock, said that ensuring that duct work is sealed properly increases an HVAC system's energy efficiency. (Photo by Jason Burt)

Whitley said, "There is additional cost for the management of it [a LEED project], but in general the buildings that we do probably would achieve LEED certification just by default."

Unfortunately, he said, some people treat LEED like a checklist because the process includes a list of points to check off. Ideally, Whitley said, a project should be designed holistically. "What really matters and what is really going to have an impact on this project," he said, should be more relevant than certification.

"LEED has been fantastic in getting the industry to change," Whitley said. "Now, codes are starting to catch up. States are starting to introduce green building codes; even our state is starting to embrace this idea. And as these states, organizations and cities start to adapt these green practices as a norm, I think in a perfect world LEED goes away and it just becomes what we do because it's good design."

Ongoing Energy Services
Some companies that build high-tech, energy-efficient buildings don't necessarily have to keep engineers on staff to maintain their systems and keep them running in tip-top shape. Companies such as Cromwell offer ongoing energy services, monitoring existing building systems and tweaking them for optimum efficiency.

Last year, Heifer International, one of the state's beacons of sustainable building, experienced some reliability and efficiency problems with the 9-year-old systems at its Little Rock headquarter. The nonprofit commissioned Cromwell's energy services department to take a look under the hood and make some adjustments. "It's just like a car: It's going to need a tune-up," Whitley said.

Now, as part of the ongoing energy services, Cromwell's office monitors a computerized "dashboard" with user-friendly graphic displays of information about Heifer's ventilation and hot, chilled and gray water systems.

Other energy services include building simulations and energy modeling, which calculates estimated energy use for different systems, energy audits, building testing for air tightness and indoor air quality as well as thermal imaging to locate where insulation may be lacking.

Retrofitting Existing Buildings
Building a new building isn't the only way to go green. Industry leaders agree that there has been a shift from constructing new green buildings to making energy-efficient improvements in the HVAC systems, insulation, lighting and windows in existing buildings in Arkansas.

Nabholz recently completed a major renovation of the Federal Building at 1111 Main St. in Conway and is pursuing its first LEED certification for the core and shell of an existing building.

"Some interesting aspects of this project: It had asbestos that had to be remediated," Laurie said. "And, get this: It was built in 1969 without a single bit of insulation. We've had to go back in and build onto the insides of the walls to be able to put in insulation. We've also replaced all the single-pane windows with low-e energy-efficient windows." Low-e means low emissivity, which refers to a coating on the glass that helps control the amount heat transferred by sunlight.

Builders can add all the expensive alternative energy systems like geothermal or solar panels they want, but most often in existing buildings, retrofits to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, insulation, lighting and windows are what make sense.

"In heating or cooling, sometimes it doesn't matter what the energy source is; you have to think of all the components together for high efficiency," said Hannah. "It's a combination of all platforms. In and of itself you may not achieve what you want out of an alternative energy system. Overall what you are looking for is efficiency."



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